Sunday Spotlight On: Shel Silverstein

Weekends are going to be all about spotlights here during Chicago Author Month! Saturday was my inaugural publisher spotlight. Sundays will be something a little different. Sundays will spotlight either a book I’m dying to read but couldn’t fit a review of in, or a very special author. Today I’m going with the ‘very special author’ format.

When I first decided to devote a month to Chicago-area authors, I asked the lovely Jill from Fizzy Thoughts to do what she does so well, and write a song for me, this one to the tune of Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town.” What I didn’t expect, when I commissioned the song, was that Jill would introduce me Chicago authors I didn’t know about with it. One was Sara Paretsky, who I now can’t believe I hadn’t heard of before – look for a review of her latest book coming later this month – and the other was Shel Silverstein.

Now, of course Silverstein wasn’t actually a new-to-me author. I grew up on and adored “The Light in the Attic” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” I also enjoyed “The Giving Tree,” “The Missing Piece,” and “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O,” although they were not as near and dear to my heart as his poetry – I still remember my family’s excitement when “Falling Up” was published in 1996. What I did not know was that he was born and grew up in Chicago, even attending the Art Institute for a year and being published for the first time in the student newspaper at Roosevelt University.

I spent countless hours in grade school with Shel Silverstein’s books of highly entertaining, occasionally slightly disgusting poetry. They were an integral part of my childhood, really. So, you can imagine that I was slightly disturbed to read that he was at one point a cartoonist for Playboy magazine. Really, though, it was Silverstein’s editor at Harper & Row who even convinced him to write children’s poetry in the first place, his initial love was cartooning.

Thank goodness for editors, I suppose, because I am eternally thankful that I had the gift of Shel Silverstein’s poetry as a child.

11 comments to Sunday Spotlight On: Shel Silverstein

  • I love Paretsky…she is all about Chicago! And I never knew that Silverstein was a cartoonist for Playboy! You learn something new every day.

  • I didn’t know Silverstein was from Chicago! I adored him growing up. I should go back and read some of his stuff again. I’m certainly glad he switched from Playboy to kids’ poetry.

    I’ve heard of Sara Paretsky but haven’t read anything yet. I’ll be looking forward to your review!

  • I love hearing how much Shel Silverstein influenced you as a kid. I know my daughter was especially taken with him. And of course this leads me to another book recommendation. Have you ever read Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont? (I’ve probably pointed it out to you because of the beautiful horse on the p/b cover.) Did you know it has a Shel Silverstein connection? The title is based on the Shel Silverstein poem Forgotten Language: “once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings.” The book is about prep school teens flirting with danger, but their risk-taking is full of nostalgia for their innocent childhoods with Shel Silverstein. The reference to that poem couldn’t be more perfect. I bet you’d like it.

  • Oh, how my son loved Shel Silverstein’s books as a kid!

  • Zee

    I love Shel Silverstein and am forever grateful to my friend A for having introduced me to him 😀 Also my ESL students had to analyze “Where the Sidewalk Ends” for class last year. They loved it too!

  • The only reason I knew Silverstein was from Chicago was because I googled Chicago writers. 😀

  • I can only imagine what a Shel Silverstein Playboy comic would look like…

    My little sister and I used to re-enact Mehoo with an Exactlywatt on a daily basis. When I was 9 and heard “Who’s on First” for the first time, I assumed Abbot and Costello stole the idea from Shel Silverstein.

  • I didn’t know that Shel Silverstein was from Chicago! The things you learn. He was (and is) much loved in my family, but I just realized that I know very little about him as a person. Perhaps I’ll have to search out a biography.

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